GMWatch is an NGO, that, according to its site, “seeks to counter the enormous corporate political power and propaganda of the GMO industry and its supporters.” Its stated purpose is to disrupt and combat what it sees as the “infiltration” of the biotech industry into the mainstream media. To this end, the organization serves as a de facto news hub of information for anti-GMO activists. It was founded in 1998 by Jonathan Matthews, who still serves as the co-managing editor, along with Claire Robinson (more on both below). It is based in Norwich, UK.
Robinson is currently on the board of advisers of GMO Free USA, a “research director” at the anti-biotech group Earth Open Source, and along with Jonathan Matthews is a member of a mind control cult called transcendental meditation (TM). Long time anti-biotech activist John Fagan was given in 2008 the TM title: “Raja with Global Responsibility for Food Purity and Safety and for Healthy Invincibility” (Raja means Indian king or prince). In this capacity he is charged with creating a global network of labs to use scientific testing methods to verify food purity and quality of Maharishi Vedic Organic products. Fagan also happens to be a founder of Genetic ID (though no longer affiliated), which verifies products as non-GMO, meaning he has a vested economic interest in demonizing biotech crops.
GMWatch’s stated goal is to eliminate all genetically modified crops and foods and slow down the progress of biotechnology and advanced genetic research. A long time advocate of mandatory GM labels, it sees this political battle as an interim step in branding crop biotechnology as inherently dangerous, encouraging consumers to reject it. Its ideological bias has been evident in the way it has reacted to the passing of the GMO labeling bill (GMWatch refers to it as the Denying Americans the Right to Know or DARK Act). The organization vehemently opposed the option provided to food producers to convey information via scan codes and 1-800 numbers, which GMWatch called “unjust” and “intentionally confusing.”
It links to a list of all the Senators who voted for the bill, allowing users to directly message their Senators to “hold them accountable” for their vote. GMWatch has already launched a campaign to turn the QR codes and 1-800 number disclosure options into a stigmatization effort, tweeting that they they should be viewed as “skull & crossbones”.
GMWatch articles promote studies that purport to find dangers of GMOs and associated products, like the herbicide glyphosate. Central to its efforts is the circulation of numerous studies by French biologist-activist Gilles-Éric Séralini (Read Biotech Gallery profile here), and in particular, “Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,” originally published in 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology, which concluded that rats fed glyphosate resistant genetically engineered corn developed grotesque cancerous tumors.
The work was retracted after criticism from scientists and oversight bodies that the study used cancer-prone rats, the controls were shoddy and the data cherry-picked (e.g. data showed some rats fed glyphosate had few tumors, which the authors did not highlight in their commentary). Séralini and anti-GMO groups claimed the journal bowed to industry pressure. It was republished, without peer review, in Environmental Sciences Europe, to further criticism by scientists. GMWatch called the 2013 retraction of his widely criticized study on GMO toxicity “illicit, unscientific, and unethical.” Claire Robinson is also founder and editor of the GMOSeralini site, which acts as a hub for disseminating his various studies.
Many of the other studies GMWatch features are poorly designed, based on flawed methodology, have been published in fringe or predatory journals, or have been conducted by authors with (stated or hidden) conflicts of interest. It does not report on studies or articles that contradict its ideological belief that GM foods are harmful, except to attempt to discredit them. Managing editor Robinson heavily criticized the letter written by 110 Nobel winners, which criticized Greenpeace for its role in blocking the development of Golden Rice, a potentially life saving biofortified crop. Robinson claimed the biotech industry “exploited” the laureates. Robinson also said the National Academies on Science, Medicine and Engineering is “at best misleading and at worst lies” when its May 2016 report concluded GMOs were safe for human consumption.
Jonathan Matthews, has been the director of the ICS english language school in Norwich, UK since 1996. Mathews said the idea for GMWatch stemmed from a weekly column he used to write in The Ecologist. Matthews was largely responsible for a massive smear campaign against Mark Lynas for the simple crime of the latter changing his mind on biotechnology when presented with evidence, and insinuated that Lynas’ apology speech was but a PR ploy. I asked Mark about his experiences with GM Watch, and he had this to say, “GM Watch is at the extreme end even of the anti-GMO movement. They specialize in smear tactics, innuendo and character assassination. They’re not part of any conversation I want to be involved in. The whole site reeks of hatred.”
- Claire Robinson, MPhil, was formerly the research director at the sustainability nonprofit Earth Open Source (read GLP Biotech Gallery profile of Earth Open Source here), which is directed by John Fagan (read GLP Biotech Gallery profile of Fagan here). She and Fagan wrote the book GMO Myths and Truths, which is based on their belief that “GMOs are not safe or necessary”.
Robinson is also the founding editor of the anti-GMO propaganda site GMO Seralini and is affiliated with numerous other anti-GMO websites including GMO Evidence, GMO Judy Carman (another well known anti-GMO activist-scientist) and Sustainable Pulse, a news service that circulates only stories critical of GMOs. Robinson has a background in research, writing, and the communication of topics relating to public health, science and policy, and the environment. Robinson appears to also have multiple ties and joint projects with Jeffrey M. Smith’s (Read Biotech Gallery profile on Smith here) Maharishi movement and Institute for Responsible Technology campaigns. She is currently on the board of advisers of GMO Free USA.
GM Watch is not a registered charity, but does take personal donations. It is also funded by donations from numerous NGOs, charitable foundations and trusts. The following is what GM Watch discloses on its website:
- 2011 funders included Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth UK, the Soil Association, and the Courtyard Trust.
- July 2011 to May 2012 a GMWatch editor received payment from Jeffrey M. Smith‘s Institute for Responsible Technology for editorial support to the IRT’s newsletters.
- 2012 and 2013 GMWatch received funding from the Isvara Foundation, Friends of the Earth Europe and the Courtyard Trust.
- 2014 GMWatch received funding from Food Democracy Now!, the Isvara Foundation, and the Sheepdrove Trust.
- In 2015–2016 GMWatch received funding from the Sheepdrove Trust and the JMG Foundation.
Despite its claim of accepting only “independent” money, all of the NGOs that are listed donors have strong ties to the anti-GMO movement and several donors have strong ties to the organic farming industry:
JMG Foundation, created from the estate of the late billionaire tycoon James Goldsmith owned a large organic farm during his life. His son Zac Goldsmith was the editor of the The Ecologist until 2007, an anti-GMO publication that Claire Robinson also contributes to. In 2012, Zac was forced to sell his £6.5 million organic farm following a divorce.
Isvara Foundation, is backed by businessman Ayman Jallad, who made his money in selling American tractors in the Middle East. One of Jallad’s apparent goals for the foundation is to expose the “American Jewish lobby” which is responsible in his eyes “for all kinds of mass murder and human rights abuse.” Their web page was set up by The World Development Movement. Under their new name Global Justice Now, the organization recently issued a report demonizing the Gates Foundation for promoting both vaccines and GMOs.
Sheepdrove Trust owns and operates a 900 hectares organic farm in the United Kingdom.
Mark Lynas, a writer, visiting fellow at Cornell Alliance and former Greenpeace activist wrote: “GMWatch is at the extreme end even of the anti-GMO movement. They specialize in smear tactics, innuendo and character assassination. They’re not part of any conversation I want to be involved in. The whole site reeks of hatred.”